The Mission Control Communications does not necessarily have a 'team' creative process. Firm believers in the power of collaboration, the team loves to work on sketch pads and bounce off ideas, until they find that menaingful emotional connection which will make people even more excited to work on an idea.
The three co-founders parted ways with their old agency in 2015, with a burning desire to work with the clients they've always wanted to help. The new agency was born with one single purpose in mind: to be proudly independent, refusing to follow the trends of the market. The Mission Control would rather lead; and they've been doing so since 2015.
In this Company Spotlight, we are learning more about The Mission Control Communications with James Killoran, Head of Strategy, Chief Cat Wrangler and Problem Solver. If that job title alone doesn't have you hooked, we don't know what will.
The Science Heroes project from The Mission Control was awarded a Bronze in The Annual 2018, a few years ago.
How was your company born and where are you based?
I parted ways with my old agency in 2015 after more than a decade. It was a big step and I asked two of the team to come with me and thankfully they did. After that we just worked really hard, although it didn’t feel like work. We were finally doing the sort of work we’d always wanted to with clients. Not long after we left the old agency, we decided that it didn’t make sense for us to be based in a cramped City Centre location. None of our clients were based locally, so we didn’t have to limit ourselves to the City. Pretty soon after that realisation we moved to a beautiful old stately home. It was headquarters to the US Army during the Second World War and my office is now in what used to be General Eisenhower’s private quarters. It’s just a really amazing space and you can go wandering about if you need headspace.
What was the biggest challenge to the growth of your company?
Most of our work is for companies within the science and healthcare industry and most of those tend to be based in the United States. So getting those introductions was a challenge at the beginning and proving to them that an agency in Europe could work effectively with their marketing and brand teams across the US was another. But we managed it.
Which was the first huge success that you can remember?
I think our big break came when we got the call to fly out to New York for a meeting to discuss rebranding a very well-known Bioscience company. I remember my Passport was about to lapse and having to get a new one really quickly. We landed at JFK and met with some of the directors from the company that night in Manhattan for what was supposed to be an informal dinner. Thirty seconds after introductions, they put us on the spot to explain what made us the right agency for the project. I’m not sure if it was nerves or we just had a really great proposal, but they told us at the end of the night, ahead of the formal meeting the next day, that we’d got the business. I remember staying up to 4am Eastern, just so I could ring the studio and tell them we’d landed the project.
Picking up our Creativepool award was also a pretty big high for us. Normally we don’t attend the award events, but this time we did and it was really inspiring being around so many other creative folk.
What’s the biggest opportunity for you and your company in the next year?
The Pandemic has transformed how the world views the science and healthcare industry and clients are now switching their attention to not only communicating with other companies within the sector, but also with the public. That means a lot more work, but we want to grow at a pace that we can control. It’s easy to go out and hire a lot of new designers and writers, but this is a very specialised sector and it can come as a major culture shock for some. So, whilst there is a massive opportunity for us to grow over the coming year, we want to make sure that doesn’t come at the expense of the work and clients we have already worked hard to secure.
Can you explain your team’s creative process?
I don’t think there is a ‘team’ creative process. Whilst we work in teams, everyone has their own way of thinking about things. Rarely will you ever see people sitting at their computers during the conceptual phase. It’s sketch pads and chats, bouncing ideas about the place and looking for the emotional connection that makes people feel something.
I think if we started to have a defined team creative process, we’d end up with cookie cutter concepts. I guess we follow a more controlled creative chaos process and it seems to work.
How does your team remain inspired and motivated?
Being a creative person means you’re going to have good days and bad days. It’s kind of the curse of being a creative, you go through bouts of crazy inspiration and then you get hit with writers block and you feel like crap. So our approach is to give people room to be inspired when they are and a support structure for when they are not. I think when you try to formalise processes to keep people inspired and motivated all the time, you only end up adding pressure to them and reinforcing the myth that you should be inspired and motivated all the time. Truth is, sometimes you’re just not and that should be ok. You shouldn’t feel pressured to be always on. That’s led to a very open culture and people feeling comfortable to tell their teammates that the juices aren’t flowing that day. We also offer all of the team access to any training they want. Being based in Northern Ireland, it can be easy to get sucked into the local way of doing things, but getting the team away to D&AD courses in London for example, it lets them meet up with people from other agencies and see that we’re all the same and facing the same challenges and opportunities, regardless of agency size.
How has COVID-19 affected your company?
Initially the Pandemic hit us like a succession of very low belly punches. It didn’t all happen at one time. It was like watching dominos fall as one-by-one, different countries that we worked with went into lockdown and projects were just cancelled or postponed. No one knew what was going to happen.
We kept in contact with all of the marketing teams as friends throughout the worst of it. It actually helped with our own sanity being able to talk with other like minded people. Then slowly but surely, the need for the science and healthcare sector to get back to work got us back to work.
Now with the work of our clients more than ever in the spotlight, we find that we’re not only doing all of the sorts of work we would have done pre-pandemic, but we’re also creating a lot of new work aimed at explaining to people, what really goes on within the sector.
Which agencies do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry?
My heroes come from the John Hegarty era, back when ads were something that people looked forward to seeing. You could go into a bar and people would be talking about them. I think that was when the art of storytelling was at its best. When it comes to branding and design, I have to admit, I do like the work of Landor and Futurebrand.
What is one tip that you would give to other agencies looking to grow?
Work hard and avoid comfort zones. That’s two tips but I kept them in one sentence.
How do you go about finding new clients/business? (Pitching, work with retainers, etc.)
We don’t actively go out chasing new business. It tends to always be through personal recommendations or a client moving to another company and bringing us with them. The best description I ever had from someone when introducing us to their team was, ‘this is James from the Mile High Agency I was telling you about.’ I wasn’t 100% sure what they meant at first and think they saw the confusion on my face. So the CEO clarified by saying that we’d been recommended to him on two separate return flights from events the he’d been attending.
What’s your one big hope for the future of the industry?
We need to see more brave work out there again. Right now everyone is desperately trying to be ever so PC and it’s leading to a lot of really bland work in the market. Creativity and more importantly, effective creativity can’t be a box-ticking exercise.
Do you have any websites, books or resources that you would recommend?
I love Lurzers Archive!